Congratulations. You have worked hard and reached a point in your career where you have achieved success, you are respected by your coworkers and tackled nearly every obstacle placed in front of you. Take a breath. Bask in the accomplishment.
However, do you now get the nagging feeling that there’s not much else for you to do? Perhaps advancement isn’t really an option in your current role and you’ve done everything you can do at your current place of employment. Hello, this is your inner voice talking: you’ve hit a career plateau.
As Dawn Rasmussen, president of Pathfinder Writing and Career Services, so eloquently says, “Career plateaus are curious things: No one aspires to reach one but, yet, they always sneak up on us at some point.”
If that’s true, you’re bound to hit your own career plateau at some point—or maybe you’re already there—and spoiler, it’s not a fun place to be. “A career plateau is when someone becomes or even feels stagnant in their career,” describes career coach Hallie Crawford.
You could have hit it because you no longer feel challenged, because you haven’t yet been promoted, or you’ve lost your long-term career vision. “If you feel stuck or that your job no longer challenges or motivates you—or if you have not been promoted in several years—those are clues that you are on a career plateau,” Crawford says.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stay on that barren, flat career plain. And even better news, your career mentor can help you move past it. “Career mentors can be important and even critical fulcrums to get you out of the career doldrums caused by a plateau,” says Rasmussen. And here’s exactly how they can help.
1. They’ll help you get back to basics. You launched your career in your chosen field because it fulfilled you. Now? Not so much. And worse, you may not know why. That’s where a mentor comes in. He or she can help you “discover or rediscover what is important to you in your career,” says Crawford. Your mentor may ask questions such as: Why did you originally pursue this career path? What did you want to accomplish? Did you achieve those goals? “Perhaps you need a new goal, or perhaps what makes you feel fulfilled has changed,” Crawford says. “A mentor can help you discover this.”
2. They see the forest—not the trees. You’ve heard the cliché that you can’t see the forest for the trees, which means, roughly, that you’re too close to have any real perspective. But a mentor is not blinded by your workplace’s trees. “A mentor can provide the perspective to see around professional and personal obstacles,” says Rasmussen, “to provide insight on what you need to do to re-invigorate your career.”
3. They’ll find a way to maintain your vision. You’ve lost hope, but luckily, your career mentor has faith—and better yet, he or she has a plan. “Your mentor can help you brainstorm ways you can grow at your current place of employment,” Crawford says. For example, maybe tedious day-to-day tasks have boggled your big-picture vision. Crawford says your mentor can help you regain it, “or help you change that vision if it needs adjusting based on a new circumstance or a new goal you have.”
4. They’ll help you sharpen your skill set. You may feel stuck in a rut because you’re going nowhere—literally. Your dreams of climbing the corporate ladder were crushed somewhere on the rung of middle management. Perhaps you don’t have the skills to move up—or maybe you don’t even know what you need to move up or on. But Crawford says, “Your mentor can help you to discover where you are lacking in qualifications to continue to climb your career ladder and what you can do about it.”
5. They’ll be candid. Sometimes what you need to get out of a career plateau—excuse our bluntness—is a good kick in the buns. “Any career mentor worth their salt will also be candid when they think you are simply whining with no intention of ever doing anything about it,” Rasmussen says. “You respect them, and it might take a couple of very direct and frank conversations, but mentors can be the reality check that really can light the fire under you. You know they are going to kick your bee-hind and keep you accountable—so quit whining and do something about it!”